Dylan Dog: Movie Announcement, Sneakily Turned into Comic Review

 Dark Horse, 2009

We've heard some good news about comic book movies recently, with Joss Whedon adapting The Avengers and the Scott Pilgrim movie not sucking at all and such. Me, I won't be able to watch Scott Pilgrim for quite a while because it opens pretty late in Germany (January! What's the excuse for that?!), so let me take a look at another new comic book adaptation I haven't seen.

A couple of days ago, a trailer for the upcoming Dylan Dog movie, Dead of Night, hit the nets. The movie is supposed to open around Halloween, but I've heard that they've postponed it until 2011, so don't hold your breath. I originally meant to share the trailer here, but as it turns out, it wasn't an official release, just something they cranked out for "the International sales folks". That's good news, because the trailer sucked big time. I'm not getting into the lousy special effects here because a) they've fixed them since, and b) I like them trashy. What irritated me was that the movie didn't resemble the comics at all. (Now that isn't exactly newsworthy either – anybody who's seen, say, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Constantine will have noticed a pattern long ago.)

Let's take a look at the comic instead. Unless you're Italian, you may not be too familiar with it. In Italy, it's one of the best-selling comic books ever. In the United States, Dark Horse issued seven stories, recently collected into a 700-page collection.

Dylan Dog is a paranormal investigator who claims he doesn't believe in the supernatural, but is open to anything. He lives with his sidekick Groucho who may or may not be the resurrected Groucho Marx, though he surely behaves that way, testing everybody's patience by constantly cracking jokes. Dylan has a sense of humor, too, but he is more of a darker, moody nature. His fascination with the supernatural seems to stem from his conviction that the natural world doesn't make much sense either. He's an ex-cop, a recovered alcoholic, and he constantly falls in love with his female clients, which is usually doomed from the beginning.

The stories involve zombies, aliens, psychics, ghosts, alternate realities and witches – everything the supernatural genre offers. They're rich with movie references and often based entirely on movies.  The first adventure, "Dawn of the Living Dead", isn't just based on the Romero classics – Dylan even prepares for the zombie encounter by watching a Romero double feature. Reality and fiction often alternate in these stories, transforming one another, creating a dream-like, or rather nightmarish, ambiguous and poetic atmosphere. Actually, some stories turn out to be dreams, and not necessarily Dylan's. It's a beautiftul, bizarre reading experience. 

Art by Corrado Roi, taken from the German edition (Carlsen Comics 2001)
Written by several authors since 1986, the quality changes. The stories written by Dylan's creator Tiziano Sclavi are generally considered the best. The art changes, too, but most of the artists stick to the premise of creating a solid, haunted atmosphere, hardly ever using greys to soften the black & white. The movie plot is not based on any of the Dylan Dog comics. That's okay. When you adapt a series, it's more about nailing the characters and finding the right tone. Which is what makes so many adaptations not work.

In this case, the possibilities to mess it up are endless: The movie, directed by Kevin Munroe and starring recent Superman Brandon Routh, is an American production based on an Italian comic book set in England. In order to make it attractive to an American audience (who, for the most part, can't be expected to know the comic), they've moved the setting to New Orleans. They also replaced Groucho, because the Groucho Marx Estate didn't clear the name and likeness. Dark Horse solved that problem by erasing his moustache and calling him Felix. In the movie, it's a whole new character called Marcus. What's more important, though, is that they seem to have changed the tone from dark, dream-like to a rather cheerful, adventurous tale. (Or maybe it's just that Brandon Routh reminds me of Brendan Fraser in The Mummy.) Anyway, it may work as a movie, even if it fails as an adaptation. Routh seems to do a solid job, and some scenes in the trailer showed a well-organised underworld that in itself should be fun to watch. But what's the point of adapting a comic book if all you keep is the name? Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to scratch that, too?

Max Vaehling

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